A couple of weeks ago, the force began their pre-season with a friendly against a ramshackle Samoan representative side that was mostly cobbled together from local club players of Samoan origin. The result was inevitable, a one side beating dished out by the Force, who were made look like world beaters in the process. What use a massacre like this does for a professional outfit looking for a pre-season workout is a story for another day, but something even more worrisome caught my eye.
The squad numbers were being sponsored by individual businesses around Perth. The Western Force no longer have the muscle of the Emirates airline behind them. I have racked my brain and I cannot think of another professional sports team, be it rugby union, league or soccer, who have no main sponsor.
The CEO of the Force typically put a positive spin on it with the following quote extracted from their website.
“This initiative came about as a means of thinking outside the square to counter current challenges in the market. The result was yet another example of Western Australians wanting to support their own”.
As a cynical sort of fellow, reading between the lines, I see a worrisome situation where the board of the Force were unable to obtain any sponsorship of substance. I quietly approached a person within the camp I know and he not only acknowledged that the sponsorship was an issue but he also feared the Force could possibly fold and go the way of the former league team based in Perth, the Western Reds. He also admitted that it was an unspoken issue within the camp that the Force and its squad must deliver this season or else oblivion awaits.
The main reasons I see behind the Force’s future uncertainty are twofold. Firstly, they are treated as a development ground by the ARU for players on the fringes of the bigger franchises from the east. They have only a handful of current Wallabies and their squad seems to be packed full of relatively unheard of foreign mercenaries. Crowds have been steady for a number of years and gate receipts I am sure have been reasonable, but as a supporter that goes to pretty much every game, I can guarantee there are always spare seats available. The busiest the NIB stadium seems to get is when some of the big New Zealand teams come to town like the Chiefs or the Crusaders, and the stadium is full of ex-pat kiwis.
This packed crowd I assure you is there to see the All Black superstars and not to see our guys. The bottom line is, without Pocock, James O’Connor or even big Nathan Sharpe, we have no marquee players and this hurts the Forces ability to attract notice from big sponsors.
Secondly, lets not beat around the bush here, results have been awful since the franchise was founded. Sure, the Force take the occasional scalp of the Reds or the Crusaders or maybe give the Stormers a good game, but on the whole most teams expect to hammer the Force and to do so resting players. Force fans may feel aggrieved at this and the ego of the players may be a little bruised but they have done nothing to earn respect from the other franchises. The result of this is that with far more losses than wins, sponsors don’t want to be seen bankrolling a side that folds every week.
My conclusion is that the Force are in a tight spot. They need to win, they need their young squad to gel together and deliver results and they need to be seen as a side to be respected and feared thus attracting major sponsors. The west of Australia, through the mining industry, has dozens of multinational companies with the muscle to support the Force through the coming seasons, but its my belief and my insiders belief that the Force must deliver on the field for this to be viable and secure their future. The two one-sided friendly matches against the Samoan representative side and the Argentinean Pampas did nothing for the Force and they were simply not up to speed for the first two games. The good news though is that the exhibition the Force gave against Melbourne where they crushed the Rebels is the type of performance that will draw the big businesses to the Force. Here’s hoping for more of the same for the rest of the season.
Over and out,